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August 7, 2007

Experts' Expert: How to visit the Web sites your company blocks


I'm always happy to put up tips of this genre since so many people report they can't see bookofjoe from where they happen to be — whether it be in China or a corporate equivalent elsewhere.

The subject was #3 of "Ten Things Your IT Department Won't Tell You," Vauhini Vara's most informative July 30, 2007 Wall Street Journal article; the helpful guide to crossing the firewall follows.

    How to visit the Web sites your company blocks

    The Problem: Companies often block employees from visiting certain sites — ranging from the really nefarious (porn) to probably bad (gambling) to mostly innocuous (Web-based email services).

    The Trick: Even if your company won't let you visit those sites by typing their Web addresses into your browser, you can still sometimes sneak your way onto them. You travel to a third-party site, called a proxy, and type the Web address you want into a search box. Then the proxy site travels to the site you want and displays it for you — so you can see the site without actually visiting it. Proxy.org18, for one, features a list of more than 4,000 proxies.

    Another way to accomplish the same thing, from Mark Frauenfelder and Gina Trapani: Use Google's translation service, asking it to do an English-to-English translation. Just enter this — Google.com/translate?langpair=en|en&u=www.blockedsite.com — replacing "blockedsite.com" with the Web address of the site you want to visit. Google effectively acts as a proxy, calling up the site for you.

    The Risk: If you use a proxy to, say, catch up on email or watch a YouTube video, the main risk is getting caught by your boss. But there are scarier security risks: Online bad guys sometimes buy Web addresses that are misspellings of popular sites, then use them to infect visitors' computers. Companies often block those sites, too — but you won't be protected from them if you use a proxy.

    How to Stay Safe: Don't make a habit of using proxies for all your Web surfing. Use them only to visit specific sites that your company blocks for productivity-related reasons — say, YouTube. And watch your spelling.

August 7, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Drying Gloves


From the website:

    Grab & Dry® Terry Dishtowel Gloves

    Why, oh why didn't somebody think of this before?

    These simply genius gloves will make you want to turn off the dishwasher and wash all your dishes by hand.

    Made of absorbent terrycloth, these gloves will make drying the dishes a quick and simple experience.

    Not to mention you will cut back on dropped dishes, there will be no more fingerprints on glasses, they are one-size-fits-all and they have waterproof lining.

    We haven't been this excited since rubber dish gloves were invented.

    Red or White.



Keep 'em beside your Tater Mitts


in your freaky batterie de cuisine.


August 7, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'How to be a better plant buyer' – by Adrian Higgins


Higgins (above), the gardening columnist of the Washington Post, offered some useful advice in his July 12, 2007 column, which follows.

    How to Be a Better Plant Buyer

    Surf the databases of the National Agricultural Statistics Service — not exactly summer beach reading, I grant you — and you might find something weird and wonderful.

    Surely, not a lot of people know that in Tennessee, the value of greenhouse and nursery crops is outranked only by soybeans, broiler chickens and cattle? In Maryland, horticulture is a $1 billion-a-year industry. In Virginia, nursery crops top all others in cash value.

    For a product that looms so large in our lives, it is quite remarkable how little we know about making good choices when we shop for plants for the garden.

    Figuring out if a plant is healthy and well grown -- never mind if it is suited to its site or how large it will grow — is a tricky endeavor. Shoppers do respond to plants that are large, bushy, green and vigorous, but those cues may not be enough to know that you're getting the best individual in a row of cloned trees.

    To that end, we have put together an illustrated tutorial available online at washingtonpost.com on what to look for when you buy trees and shrubs at the nursery. This will help guide your woody plant buying in September and October, the optimum period for planting them as air temperatures cool but the soil remains warm for root growth.

    Woody plants are usually sold balled and burlapped or in containers. Generally, larger trees are dug in the field and then wrapped in burlap, but the industry has moved toward raising more of its stock in containers, including larger trees. This shift has vastly widened the trade in plants since the 1970s because containerized plants can be shipped to market far more easily than those that are field-grown and then wrapped.

    But if a tree or shrub is left too long in the pot, its roots can become congested to the point of harming the plant's long-term health.

    "The roots of a containerized plant need to be developed to the point where they hold the soil but not to the point of excessive growth," said Warren Quinn, vice president for operations of the American Nursery and Landscape Association. This balance "is not completely definable or specific, but it's something a consumer, over time, can get a feel for." In other words, don't be shy about slipping a plant out of its pot to examine the roots.

    Quinn edits the American Standard for Nursery Stock, a trade manual that establishes standards, specifications and guidelines for nursery plants as they make their way through an industry with a lot of middlemen and players. The holly you buy at the garden center may have been through three growers and two or three nurseries before it reaches you.

    The manual is available online (www.anla.org, click on Publications) but is technical and of limited use to consumers, Quinn said. However, it contains a few numbers of evident value for all.

    • For balled and burlapped shade trees, those with a trunk width of one inch should have a root ball that is 16 inches across. A 1.5-inch tree should have a root ball 20 inches across; a two-inch tree, 24 inches; and a three-inch tree, 32 inches. The same table also gives proper root-ball sizes for smaller ornamental trees such as dogwoods and redbuds.

    • Woody plants that are not single-trunked present more of a challenge. For narrow or upright shrubs and for multi-stemmed trees, the manual recommends a root ball of 22 inches for a plant six feet high. An eight-foot plant should have a 28-inch ball.

    • The depth of the root ball is also important and generally, for root balls smaller than 20 inches across, should be 65 percent of the diameter. For those above 20 inches, the ratio is 60 percent. Thus, a 16-inch root ball should have a depth of 10.5 inches. A root ball 28 inches wide should be 17 inches deep. The ball is measured from the point where the trunk flares into the roots.

    • Another important feature is for the trunk to be at or close to the center of the root ball, so that the tree's roots are preserved as much as possible when it is dug.

    • The recommended container sizes are more complicated to navigate in the manual, and they change based on the type of plant grown and also on its mature size. Suffice to say, there should be an obvious balance in the size of the plant and the container it is in.

    • Beyond all these considerations, which have to do with the root health, I look for specimens with a pleasing and healthy branch structure, so that the tree can be trained when young to mature into something special. This often means looking for one whose trunk rises to a dominant leader. The online tutorial includes more advice about buying plants that are balled and burlapped vs. container grown, as well as tips on assessing the general health and structure of individual trees and shrubs.

    Quinn concedes that it is not easy for a consumer without a horticultural background to divine all these aspects of plant buying. "It's tough. It's not the easiest product to purchase," he said. "Independent retailers can certainly do a good job of communicating value; they can buy high-quality stock and display it well and have knowledgeable employees. That's how good retailers sell plants."

    But also carry this advice from Quinn next time you're shopping at the nursery: "The roots are everything."

August 7, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

August 7, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

'The book should be a ball of light in one's hand'*


It took me about three yoctoseconds to order this book after I saw it mentioned in passing in the Wall Street Journal.


August 7, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Desktop Dodgeball


From the website:

    Desktop Dodgeball

    Ease the frustrations of your "grown up" world with the Dodge 'Em Desktop Dodgeball Game.

    Just line them up and take aim — and be taken back to a time when scores were settled with rubber balls on the blacktop.

    For those of you who never fared well in these dueling matches, here's your chance to improve your game.

    This mini version comes with a sponge ball and 8 enemies, er, kids ready for action.

    Wood figures measure 3.5"H x 2.5"W.




August 7, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'The World's Best Candy Bars? English, of Course'


I put Kim Severson's July 11, 2007 New York Times article with the headline above in my "To investigate (real soon now)" file after I read it that day and last evening I finally got around to doing something about it.

Off to Foods Of All Nations I went, to the little room to the left of the entrance featuring nothing but imported candy from all points of the map.

I espied Cadbury Dairy Milk, U.K. Kit Kat and Maltesers and purchased one of each, along with an American Kit Kat for comparison purposes.

My verdict: I agree with Ms. Severson.

Here's her story.

The World's Best Candy Bars? English, of Course

A television news producer from Atlanta recently made a deal with her boss, who was traveling in London. The producer promised she would submit her script for an investigative story ahead of deadline in exchange for two British Kit Kats and a Curly Wurly bar.

The woman, who did not want her name revealed for fear of being teased endlessly by her colleagues, so loves her British chocolate that she takes an extra suitcase when she travels to London just to bring back a haul.

''Should I admit I am carrying two U.K. Kit Kats with me in my briefcase right now, just in case I get into a bind on my trip?'' she e-mailed this reporter from the road.

At this point, it would be easy to take a long, clichéd side trip into a discussion of the relative inferiority of British food. But for the rarefied palate that can appreciate the soft, immediate pleasure of an inexpensive candy bar, it's not difficult to give the edge to sweets from the realm of the queen.

That's why Malcolm Smart takes his son, Rowan, for a stroll to Blue Apron in Park Slope, Brooklyn, twice a week for a proper British candy bar. Rowan is 6 years old, and tends toward the mint Aero bar.

Mr. Smart, who grew up in Birmingham, England, home of the chocolate manufacturer Cadbury-Schweppes, is a Flake man himself. The Cadbury Flake, a crumbly bar of compressed ribbons of chocolate, was invented in 1920. It is thrust into swirls of soft ice cream at parks all over London, creating a dessert called a 99.

Alan Palmer, who is an owner of Blue Apron, said the British candy bars have been strong sellers since he opened the shop five years ago.''Anybody who went to school there or had any kind of business or family connection over there is totally addicted to them,'' he said.

Mr. Smart, who has lived in the United States for 25 years, learned early on in his life here that British and American chocolate bars are different, even if they share a name and a look.

''One day I was eating a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk and I thought, this has absolutely no flavor,'' he said. ''I looked at the label and saw it was made by Hershey. I was outraged.''

Cadbury Dairy Milk is the iconic British candy bar, the one most likely to be tucked into the suitcase of a Yankee tourist looking for an inexpensive souvenir. Versions are filled with caramel, whipped fondant, whole nuts or pellets of shortbread cookie.

It's a different bar from the Cadbury bar available in the United States. According to the label, a British Cadbury Dairy Milk bar contains milk, sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, vegetable fat and emulsifiers. The version made by the Hershey Company, which holds the license from Cadbury-Schweppes to produce the candy in the United States under the British company's direction, starts its ingredient list with sugar. It lists lactose and the emulsifier soy lecithin, which keeps the cocoa butter from separating from the cocoa. The American product also lists ''natural and artificial flavorings.''


Tony Bilsborough, a spokesman for Cadbury-Schweppes in Britain, said his company ships its specially formulated chocolate crumb — a mash of dried milk and chocolate to which cocoa butter will be added later — to Hershey, Pa. What happens next accounts for the differences.

''I imagine it's down to the final processing and the blending,'' he said. After consulting with chocolate manufacturers in each country, Cadbury tries to replicate the taste people grew up with, he said. In the United States, that means a bar that is more akin to a Hershey bar, which to many British palates tastes sour.

Kirk Seville, a spokesman for the Hershey Company, declined to explain the manufacturing process, saying the company preferred not to take part in a discussion about the manufacturing differences between a British and an American Cadbury bar.

For people here with a taste for British candy, no explanation is necessary. Their opinions are already formed.

''Hershey's tastes like ear wax,'' said Kevin Ellis, a Canadian-born designer with Adobe Systems in San Francisco. Mr. Ellis, who says Canadian and British chocolate bars are comparable, anticipates with delight the boxes of imported chocolate bars his family sends.

The appeal of British chocolate is powerful. When the Ellis family moved not long ago to another Bay Area house, a burly man from Birmingham who was helping to haul the sofa spied a box.

''Do you mind if I have a Curly Wurly?'' he asked with the tenderness of a hopeful child.

The Curly Wurly, a thick strip of braided caramel covered in chocolate, is a sibling to the discontinued Marathon bar, which any American who was in high school when Jimmy Carter was president will remember fondly.

The Curly Wurly is not as popular in Britain as the Crunchie. With its crisp honeycomb interior, it's what a Butterfinger might be if it went to finishing school and married up.

But neither rivals the Mars bar, the prom queen of British candy bars. About three million of them are made daily in Slough, just west of London. It's like a less sweet version of the American Milky Way, rather than the almond-stuffed American Mars bar. The smart set in London melts it over ice cream for a fast dinner party dessert. Mars bars are also fried in the same sort of batter used to coat cod.

And then there is the television producer's beloved Kit Kat, invented in York, England, in the early 1930s and available in versions that match the tastes of, variously, Japanese, Germans, Australians, Canadians and Americans.

Nicky Perry has sold chocolate bars from her home country for more than a decade at her store, Tea and Sympathy, in Greenwich Village.

Her theory is that the bars from the United Kingdom are made from a better recipe, containing fewer stabilizers. They melt more quickly than a Hershey bar, which is why she cuts back on the amount she stocks in summer.

''I can't afford to keep the A.C. on all night or a chocolate bar would cost $10, wouldn't it?'' she said.

At the London Food Company in Montclair, N.J., about 17 percent of the store's sales are British chocolate bars, said Samantha Codling, the owner.

Ms. Codling, who is from Essex, offers a range of Cadbury Milk bars, including the mint crisp, whole nut and Turkish delight with rose jelly. The British Smartie, which resembles an M & M but has a thicker shell, and the Malteser malt ball, also sell well.


''All the ex-pats definitely know the difference already and the Americans soon figure it out,'' she said.

Bryn Dyment, a Web developer in the Bay Area who grew up in Canada, said he was shocked when his parents took him to a candy counter in the United States. He found out that not every child in the world was eating the same chocolate bars he was.

It wasn't until he moved to the United States as an adult that he realized just how vast that divide is.

''You get in these religious arguments with people,'' he said. ''I haven't met a Canadian who likes a Hershey bar, but Americans think you're crazy when you say that, because they think everyone loves a Hershey bar.''

August 7, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Gyro Jewelry


For girls who have trouble keeping their heads on straight — and those who admire them.

From the website:

    Gyro Necklace and Earrings

    To the untrained eye this jewelry looks like a cleverly designed circular construction, but the eye of artist Connie Verrusio sees so much more.

    Verrusio specializes in finding old mechanical parts and converting them into wearable accents.

    She solders sterling silver washers together to create these unique accessories.

    Gyros (gyroscopes) are used for measuring and maintaining orientation.

    They are used in compasses and assist in stability (bicycles, Hubble Space Telescope and ships) as part of inertial guidance systems.

    So in a sense, whenever you put on this necklace or these earrings you can think not only are they alluring, but also a subtle reminder of balance, stability and direction in life.

    Chain: 16"L; Pendant 0.5" Diam.

    Handmade in New York.

    Earrings: 1.5"L.

    Sterling silver.



Tell you what: I'd like to see Peter Atwood take this idea to the next level by creating working gyroscope jewelry.

Sure, it would cost four figures minimum — but imagine the exquisite sensation of being truly balanced.

Who can put a price on that?

August 7, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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